I'm learning the guitar. I'm a guitar player.

Say it with me: P. Brown is a guitarist.

I seriously started studying guitar back in June. It had been an interest of mine for years, and I had many false starts at learning how to play. This time, though, I was determined to give it my all.

Because I felt I was Hot Shit who could master anything in a week or so, I always blamed the guitar for my failure to learn it. My fingers not bending properly? Guitar's fault. The muscles in my thumb giving out? Guitar's fault. Always putting my fingers on the wrong string and fret? Damn right, guitars fault. 

What business does it have with that many strings anyway? What's the point of a goddamn fret? Why are the strings numbered 6-5-4-3-2-1 from top-down and not 1-2-3-4-5-6? 

(That last one is a serious question. It's stupid.)

Nothing has humbled my ass quite like the guitar. I consider myself to be a swift learner of things conceptually, and pretty quick on the uptake when it comes to physical stuff. But this six-string contraption has really been putting me through the wringer. I've had to learn how to learn, which is something I've never had to do before.

And it's all because of playing chords.

I always quit guitar because of the initial difficulty of playing chords. My fingers would touch other strings, or I wouldn't stretch my fingers far out enough across the fretboard, and strumming would give me this buzzy, unclean sound. After too many failures, I'd decided enough was enough and quit altogether. I didn't need my grown-ass confidence shattered by an instrument.

This time around, I decided to persevere no matter what. Failure wasn't an option. So I decided to focus on the one chord that had given me the most trouble: C major. Mastering that would prove to myself that I could actually learn this instrument. No more quitting.

I nutted up and got to work. It was time.

I started slowly. Failing, of course, but I expected that by now. I moved my fingers around the fretboard carefully as I strummed, listening and feeling for even the smallest mistake. Eventually, the execution became cleaner. Each strum got better. I was getting closer.

But then there was this one strum. The strum I had been waiting for. It was clean. It was clear. It was C major. I played it again. Clean. Again? Perfect. Again?! OUTTA HERE.

Once I pulled it off, I felt something click in place, mentally. That's when it hit me: playing the guitar is really all about muscle memory. 

I kept at it.

You have to take your time when learning a new chord. Expect to fail many times. Seriously. It's going to be disheartening, and you're going to make excuses for yourself ('my fingers are too big' was a personal favorite of mine). But it's part of the process. Since I know that I'm going suck at playing a new chord initially, it's not a big deal anymore. I'm used to it.

Which brings me to my next roadblock: chord transitions.


I was a cellist growing up, where I had to put all of my fingers on the same string. Easy. On the guitar, your fingers are all over the place to play chords; on different strings and different frets. It makes transitioning to different chords a nightmare because you have to make all of your fingers move across the guitar, in various configurations on the fretboard and strings, at the same time. The exact opposite of the cello, where you only have to move your fingers horizontally to the correct, single string.

So not only do you have to learn the sequence of chords, but also how to effectively transition between them. It's an exercise of extreme dexterous skill. Coming from the cello, where I never had to place fingers on multiple strings simultaneously, has made learning how to transition difficult for me. But I'm up for the challenge now.

Learning the guitar is reminding me that no matter how old you are, the more you put into something, the more you get out. I make sure to cash in at least fifteen minutes every day of playing around. Whether it's learning new chords or just picking on the strings, something has to be deposited. I'm too early in the game to cash out in any significant way, but I can feel myself getting more comfortable, little by little.

And right now, that's enough.

P. Brown